Doug Christiansen wants his Belfast Giants players to click into Play-off mode — even though the end-of-season knockout competition is still a month away.
The coach’s logic is understandable though. As the Giants chase three pieces of silverware, over the next five weeks, Christiansen wants his troops to adopt a determined attitude, with victory in every game a must, in order to keep the treble dream alive.
March is set up to be a massive month for the Giants — quite possibly the biggest in the team’s history — but in order for that to be the case, February must finish with two wins.
Elite League leaders Sheffield beat the Dundee Stars on Thursday night to open up a nine-point lead on the Giants. Christiansen’s men have two games in hand, with two crunch games between the top two to come — but even winning all those would leave the Steelers still one point better off.
The Hull Stingrays could have a say in the title race this weekend as they face Sheffield tonight and host the Giants tomorrow, but uppermost in Christiansen’s mind is this evening’s game with the Edinburgh Capitals.
The Scottish side — who Christiansen coached last season — are limping towards the end of the season as they are seriously down on numbers, but the Giants won’t allow that to cloud their thinking.
Nathan Craze will be the starting goaltender, with Stephen Murphy being given a well-earned rest after some outstanding performances of late, but having his back-up in goal isn’t a sign that Christiansen thinks his team just has to turn up to win.
“From my standpoint the play-offs start now,” said Christiansen.
“We’re fighting for the the league, the Challenge Cup and the Play-offs and we’re the only team in the league still alive in all three competitions.
“We have to adopt a Play-off mentality, which means putting everything on the line, every night, to win games.
“Play-offs are the time of year when the players find something extra and I want us to find that now.
“We do need a little help if we are going to win the league, but that’s not an impossibility.
We go on the road again this weekend and we’re looking for four more points to keep ourselves in the fight.
“The games just snowball now. From here on in they get bigger and bigger until we lose — but we don’t want that to happen.
“We’re staying focused and in 2011 the guys have done a great job and gone on a fantastic run to get us to where we are now — which is where we want to be.”
Tim Cook remains out of the Giants line-up.
The defenceman hasn’t played since the turn of the year because of injury and there is a real fear that his season may be over.
Fortunately, the recent capture of Kaspars Astasenko means that, numerically at least, Cook hasn’t been missed.
“Tim Cook is a big loss because he is one of our captains and a big player on and off the ice. Having a full line-up makes it easier, but we’d be a better team with him in it,” said Christiansen.